The Lymphatic System, Lymphedema and Cancer

This week I want to introduce you to Rebecca Wilkinson. She is an incredible RMT and part of the Stretch Heal Grow yoga retreat team. I asked Rebecca to help shed some light on how the lymphatic system works. She also adds some tips for those of you who have been through breast cancer and are concerned about lymphedema. Feel free to pass this article along to a friend who might need it. Thanks Rebecca!!

The Lymphatic System is a little known system in the body responsible for transporting fluid, known as lymph, from the rest of the body back to the heart.  It is made up of a network of vessels similar in appearance to veins.  These vessels converge on a lymph node.  The body contains approximately 600 lymph nodes; about 160 of these are in the neck.  They can sometimes be felt in the neck when the body is fighting an infection like the common cold.  The rest of the lymph nodes are spread throughout the body and occur in small clusters.

Lymphedema, put simply, is a chronic buildup of protein rich fluid in an area of the body due to a dysfunction of the lymphatic system.  There are 2 types of lymphedema: Primary Lymphedema is a developmental disturbance of the lymphatic vessels and/or lymph nodes.  Secondary Lymphedema is an insufficiency of the lymphatic system as a result of internal or external impairment.  In North America, the leading cause of lymphedema is cancer treatment.

Cancer treatment can take various forms including surgical removal of the cancerous cells, chemotherapy, and radiation.  When surgery is done to remove the tumor, there is usually a sample of lymphatic tissue taken as well, sentinel node biopsy.  Should this tissue come back positive for cancerous cells, more lymphatic tissue is removed.  Removal of some or all of the lymph nodes creates a “break” in the lymphatic system and drainage becomes more difficult.  The body can cope for a certain period of time; eventually an overworked lymphatic system becomes overloaded.  Think of the lymphatic system like our network of roads and highways.  There are small one lane roads, two or three lane main roadways and our highways.  The lymphatic “highways” are the ones that make their way to the lymph nodes.  What would happen if your normal exit on the highway is suddenly removed (or under construction)?   Or even worse, what happens if there is a major accident and the entire highway is blocked?  Some sort of detour happens and it takes longer for you to get to your destination.  The same happens to the lymph fluid, except that sometimes the smaller vessels cannot handle the extra volume and chronic swelling happens.

The good news is that there are preventative measures you can take (although this is not a guarantee) and there are treatment options should lymphedema develop.

Preventative Steps:

Slow Recovery – Research has shown that the risk for lymphedema actually increases if recovery takes place too quickly.  It is recommended that breast cancer patients not raise their arm over their head for at least a month post-surgery.

Self Treatment – Self massage can actually help to repair some of the damaged lymphatic tissue.  Simply stroke up the affected arm and across the chest into the armpit of the opposite arm.  Pressure should mimic that of petting a cat or dog.

Seek the advice of a therapist – Find a therapist in your area who you can talk to and ask questions.

Treatment Options:

Compression – A compression garment will be the most helpful should you develop lymphedema

Therapy – Make an appointment with a qualified therapist as soon as you feel any changes in the arm, including any heaviness.  Often this is the first warning sign, even before any visible signs


Rebecca Wilkinson has been practicing Massage Therapy since she graduated from Sutherland-Chan School and Teaching Clinic in 2007.  She enjoys working with her clients to relieve pain and restore balance.  Her passion is working with cancer patients and using massage and lymphatic drainage to assist with recovery and improve quality of life.

You can find her at:

Sandy shares my story :)

My aromatherapy mentor and friend Sandy Powell has a feature on her blog where she posts about people in her life doing good things. I am honoured that this month she posted about me and the Stretch Heal Grow yoga retreat for young women with breast cancer. Sandy is always there to answer any questions I have about aromatherapy and natural healing. She is also a supporter of the retreat and donates awesome healing essential oils for all the women attending. As you know I am a little addicted to essential oils – that comes from my training with Sandy. Her knowledge and passion was a big part of what guided me towards holistic healing alternatives.

Here is her post:

Hidden Gems – Meet Jasmin Fiore

Thanks Sandy 🙂


Beauty’s Way – an interview with author Lori Myles Carullo

Beauty’s Way: Inspiration on the Path of Awakening is a new book by Lori Myles Carullo.  It dives into the idea of finding beauty in the heart, in life and in love.  Lori explores ways to move through  the challenges life throws at you and offers ideas on how to come from a place of love and inner strength in all that you do.

I had a chance to ask Lori about the book and get some insight into what inspired her to write it.  

Lori tell us a little about yourself?

I am almost 40 years old and I feel more well in every way than I have my entire life.  As a young child, I had a big passion for dance and I dreamed of becoming a professional dancer. My life changed dramatically in my teen years as I struggled with illness – parasites followed by chronic fatigue syndrome. It was very difficult to lose my energy and to watch my dreams dissolving – and yet a new dream emerged from the depths of this experience.  I learned a great deal about health and healing and I longed to help others in the same way I was helped.

I studied massage, energy work (Reiki), nutrition, herbology, meditation, yoga, psychology and spirituality. I found tremendous healing through all of these modalities and I also developed a new passion for writing and sharing my gifts in this way. A couple of years ago I sat in the Tree-House in our Costa Rican retreat center and through all the seasons I wrote my first book to be published, ‘Beauty’s Way’. Now I live in Costa Rica part of the year with my husband and young child Valentino (20 months old).  Here I teach yoga, offer massage, Reiki, and life coaching sessions in the tree-house, and co-ordinate yoga & adventure retreats.

What inspired you to write the book?

I was inspired to write Beauty’s Way because I felt that through all of my life experiences so far, I had gained much wisdom and inspiration that could light up the lives of others. I didn’t want my experiences of suffering and struggle to have been just for my own personal growth – I hoped that all that I came through and the beauty I found in it all could also be a blessing for many others.

It was a difficult decision to publish the book because in it I share many personal stories of my healing journey, and various family members offered great resistance to my sharing this with the greater public. However, I felt called to share the book and I listened and respected my loving inner voice and the Divine guidance I received every step of the way.

What has been the feedback from people as they read the book?

The feedback from the book has been incredible. I offer here a quote from a woman who just read Beauty’s Way and shared this with me:

“Thank you, thank you, thank you for Beauty’s Way.  I have been reading it for three days and trying some of the beauty tips.  I don’t want it to end.  I feel so connected, so inspired and am slowly awakening again.  Certain chapters resonate deeply with me and throughout I am inspired by your honesty, vulnerability and love that radiates through the entire book.”

Mostly, people share that the book resonates with them as my stories echo many similarities in life lessons as their personal stories, and that the illuminations of wisdom that come through are deeply helpful in a very real way.

I enjoyed your insights on forgiveness and gratitude – What sections seem to be resonating with people the most?

I’m so glad you benefited from the insights on forgiveness and gratitude. I find that many people share with me how deeply the chapter on grief touched them (most likely because it penetrated a tender point in their own grieving…) and also the section about gratitude and friendship. I think that each reader will be inspired by different parts of the book based on where they are at in their life journey and what is most on their hearts. One young man I met who was in recovery from addiction read the introduction and told me that just that part moved him in ways no other book had. He felt very connected to the message coming through and like somebody out there ‘got him’. Such a gift.

What was the hardest chapter/ easiest chapter for you to write?

I believe the hardest chapter for me to write (and to re-read) was the chapter on grief. As I wrote the words I re-lived one of the most difficult times in my life – the losing of one of my best friends to a freak car accident. I cried many tears as I wrote that chapter, sharing both the beauty and magic of her life and death.

The chapter on forgiveness was also very difficult for me to write because it brought up the pain of that core relationship, re-opening some wounds that still were calling for the balm of healing.

The easiest chapter to write was the one about friendship. My love for my best friend and the various experiences we lived through together helped to make the words and thoughts flow freely and easily through me. I also found the chapter on change easy to write because it is something I have worked hard on accepting and flowing with in my life, so it was not too difficult to share.

If you could share 3 overall insights from the book that you would want people to integrate into their lives what would they be?

Wow – 3 overall insights from the book I would like people to take away with them…. Hmmm….

ONE: The beauty we create and unveil in life comes from the LOVE we offer to every single aspect of our human journey. (The good stuff, the tough stuff, and everything in between.)

TWO: One of the most important ways we bring love to our lives and the lives of others is through radical acceptance and compassion.

THREE: Miracles are always possible. Love is the great instigator of miracles and so we are forever capable of being the author and creator of miracles in our lives and the lives around us.

Thanks Lori!

You can find out more about Lori and her work at   and on Facebook at Beauty’s Way:Inspiration on the Path of Awakening the book is available on


6 natural remedies for seasonal allergies

By Jill Shainhouse, ND, FABNO

stinging nettle

So, what is an allergy sufferer to do?  You could take over-the-counter antihistamines, or puffers, but a lot of those medications leave people feeling plain old strange.  Some cause drowsiness (even the ones that aren’t supposed to cause drowsiness), dry mouth or constipation….

Is there a better way?  A natural way? 

Quercetin:   This “natural anti-histamine” is a bioflavonoid derived from apples (with the skin), red onions and black tea.  It works by reducing the release of histamine from mast cells (the cells that secrete histamine in the first place).  A typical dosage is anywhere from 250 to 500 mg 3 times daily.  According to various sources, quercetin chalcone, is claimed to be absorbed better, but is difficult to obtain in Canada.

Omega 3 fatty acids:  Most of us are deficient in omega 3 fatty acids and research suggests that these healthy fats might reduce inflammatory chemicals in our bodies such as: prostaglandin E2. A German study that obtained data from 568 people and concluded that a higher level of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood was associated with a decreased risk of hay fever.  One of the best sources of omega 3 fatty acids is fish oil, but if you are a vegan there are other options including flax oil, walnuts and algae oil such as Nutra-veg by Ascenta Health.  An ideal dose is at least 1500mg of EPA and 500 mg of DHA per day.

Nettle (Stinging Nettle – Urtica):  In Florida, a research team in 2009 reported that nettle (Urtica dioica) extract inhibited several key inflammatory events that cause the symptoms of seasonal allergies.  It significantly appeared to reduce the release of histamine.  This herb can be taken in capsule form, but it’s best to obtain some dried herb and steep it in some hot water.  The ratio of dried herb to water is about 1 tsp/cup.  The tea can be sipped throughout the day.  Many report that this helps to reduce throat itching and irritation. 

Vitamin C:  This antioxidant is a natural anti-histamine.  A recent Korean study (March 2013) showed that children with higher vitamin C intake had less symptoms of allergic rhinitis.  There are so many different forms of vitamin C.  Which one is for you?  If you tend towards a sensitive bowel, make sure you get calcium ascorbate (a buffered form of vitamin C) as opposed to a plain ascorbic acid. 

Butterbur:  Also known as Petasites hybridus , this herb has also shown some impressive results in clinical trials.  In a recent study published in the British Medical Journal, the researchers concluded 4 butterbur capsules per day were as effective as a popular antihistamine drug in controlling symptoms of seasonal allergies.  At the 60th annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, a group of researchers from Britain discussed butterbur’s efficacy on reducing grass related allergies. 

Saline sprays: Of course, for chronic sufferers of allergic rhinitis and sinusitis it never hurts to flush the mucous membranes with a saline solution.  You can do this with a spray or a neti pot (but neti pots seem to require a certain amount of skill!).  This can help to reduce inflammation and prevent secondary infections. 

Jill Shainhouse, ND, FABNO is a naturopathic doctor with an additional board certification in naturopathic oncology.  She has been practicing since 2004 in Toronto in the Bayview and Eglinton area.  Her goal is to provide safe and effective integrative care for every patient. 

For more information visit






Toronto Yoga Studio Reviews – Kula Yoga

This week’s yoga studio review is a guest blog post by Corinne Murray who is part-time yogi and a full-time ninja with a penchant for show-tunes & grilled cheese sandwiches.


The Space
Kula Yoga’s main studio is an urban oasis. It’s an expansive loft-like space that showcases an exposed brick wall, a cork floor and because it’s a corner building, it features a row of windows on two sides. It’s light-filled by day, and candle-lit by night. It can hold 45 people per class and when it’s packed to the gills, there’s an energy that’s contagious. When it’s empty, there’s a stillness that inspires mindfulness, reflection and growth.

Kula’s secondary studio is located down a hallway, separate from the main entrance. It’s considerably smaller, with fewer windows and holds 20 people per class. This room is not as inviting and definitely relies on the teacher to help create the mood.

The reception area & change room are both extremely small. It’s understandable, since the prime real estate in a yoga studio is the studio floor itself! However, it makes arriving at the studio stressful as you manoeuvre through dozens of yogis prepping for class. My advice is to arrive at the studio already changed!

The Schedule
Kula has an extensive schedule with a variety of classes all throughout the day. The early bird can hit up a 6:30am class, whereas the night owl can grab a class at 10:00pm. The length of classes range from an hour to an hour and a half. Most classes are Flow & Anusara inspired. However, they also offer meditation, hot yoga, yin yoga, power yoga and two new classes called Queer Yoga & Brown Girls Yoga; encouraging and welcoming diversity in the community.

Teachers & Classes
I’ve been lucky enough to experience many different classes at Kula.The few times I’ve been able to sneak out of work early to make a 5:00pm class have been divine.These classes are only an hour. Nothing like a quickie! By 6 o’clock, you’ve reached enlightenment & still have time to go home and make dinner!

My favourite classes include:
Mondays, 6:30-8:00pm
Basics Flow with Jennifer

She is a lovely, grounded, earth-mama who sings to you at the end of class. She’s a talented musician & inspiring teacher. However, she’s pregnant and will soon be on mat leave. Catch her while you can!
This class is all about reviewing fundamentals. Just because it’s back to basics, doesn’t mean it’s easy 🙂

Tuesdays, 6:30-8:00pm
Flow with Marinella

She is funny & sarcastic. She has a good, strong energy…like you’d want to have a beer with her afterward. I mean a smoothie. Yeah…a smoothie sounds more yoga-esque.
At one point during this class, you usually partner up with your neighbour to do something cool….like learning to handstand.
I always hate this at first because I go to yoga to get away from people…but then I really love it, because it breaks down this weird insecurity that everyone is better than you…because they’re not! And you make new friends. Sweaty friends.
(Kula means “community” in Sanskrit and this studio is dedicated to making yoga a communal & inclusive experience, as well as a personal & independent one)

Wednesdays, 6:30-8:00pm
Live Music Flow with Christi-an

She’s pretty easy-going and definitely instills that energy in this class. Mindfulness & meditation are what come to mind.
This class is such a treat. There is live music! A classical guitar player accompanies your practice.

The Location and Prices
Kula Yoga has locations in Toronto, Oakville and Burlington.
Kula (Toronto location) is located at 304 Brunswick Ave. It’s on the corner of Brunswick and Bloor. Class prices are comparable to most other studios in the city.
The only difference is at some point everyday, there are at least two classes available at a drop-in rate of $8.00! That’s right, only 8 bucks! Kula wants yoga to be accessible to more people, regardless of their income. How sweet is that!
Check the schedule for featured $8 classes.

Intro Special: $30
Drop in: $17
5 class card: $75
10 class card: $140
20 class card: $260
1 month unlimited: $140

*They also have a membership program for $90/month of unlimited yoga when you sign up for a 12 month contract.

 Guest post by Corinne Murray – thanks Corinne!

Sensational Summer Salads

I am a huge fan of refreshing summer salads, so this week I bring you a  GUEST POST by the lovely MaryLisa Dincel,a Registered Holistic Nutritionist with a passion for health and wellness. Enjoy!   

Ah the great smell of summer BBQs and friends and family to share them with! Whether we are entertaining or bringing a dish over when we’re invited, salads are a great way to celebrate the freshness and abundance of summer.

With our soil not being what it was 50 years ago as well as our modern lifestyle, constant exposure to stress, pollutants and the consumption of processed foods – leads to an acid/alkaline imbalance in our bodies. An overly acidic body puts us at risk for minor and major health problems.  Vegetables are our most potent ALKALINE foods, and help to rid the body of unwanted toxins. The problem is getting enough of them….. That’s where SALADS come in…. So many recipes and an infinity of flavour combinations!  “I’ll bring the salad” can be so much more than a bowl full of lettuce – Be creative!

Salads can either accompany a meal, or if you use your imagination can BECOME the meal by adding one or more foods containing protein such as chickpeas or adzuki beans, cooked chicken, some salmon/tuna (fresh or canned), or goat cheese /sheep feta or slivered almonds, walnuts or seeds etc…. you get the idea! Another great way to boost the nutritional power of salads is by using cooked (& cooled) gluten-free grains like quinoa, buckwheat, brown rice etc. You will not only be getting more protein but great energy sustaining carbohydrates as well.  Don’t forget to add in some fresh herbs, green onion or spices to jazz it up and make the flavours sing!

In terms of fats, I pretty much always use Extra Virgin Olive Oil in salads (unless I’m going for an Asian flavour – then I’ll choose something else like grapeseed or coconut) Adding slices of avocado (and then stirring into salad) eliminates the need for any oil…. and a great fat to add to salads!  You will feel more satisfied when you add a good fat like avocados, virgin coconut oil, or healthy raw nuts or seeds like sunflower or pumpkin seeds (note: if you prefer them toasted –toast them yourself same day to avoid possible rancidity) .

Using fresh squeezed lemon juice (instead of vinegar) adds a delightful fresh taste and compliments sea salt nicely.  Nothing beats an arugula salad with fresh lemon juice, olive oil and sea salt…. throw in some walnuts and slivered Parmigiano Reggiano/ Grana Padano or hard goat/sheep cheese (optional) and WOW is all I can say!

Take advantage of the summer abundance of local veggies! Click on my blog link below for  a few sensational summer salad recipes I hope you’ll enjoy !